Smoke-roasted pork tacos


I love smoked foods. There are few things that can’t be made better with the addition of smoke. The problem is that it’s not viable for us to have a smoker right now–we don’t have enough storage space outside so we’d have to worry about junkies wandering off with it–so I mainly daydream about when we will be able to have one so I can make my own bacon, and can smoke ribs and sausages and fish and whatever else I feel like.

Or at least I daydreamed about that until I figured out that it’s actually pretty easy to smoke food on a barbecue.  All you need is woodchips and a grill large enough to be able to cook your food with indirect heat, and since we have literally the cheapest non-portable propane grill that Canadian Tire sells and can smoke on it, that means pretty much any two-burner barbecue.

Apparently this is actually “smoke-roasting” because it happens at a higher temperature than hot smoking, but if it tastes great, who cares about nomenclature, right?

The night I made these smoke-roasted pork tacos I was actually planning on making shrimp tacos with a small amount of shrimp we had in the freezer but when I went to the local fruiterie to get some vegetables and tortillas, I spotted a pork tenderloin on sale and thought that this would be a great addition to the meal.  And since I’d just found a bag of applewood chips that I’d previously bought and had forgotten about, I figured that I might as well try combining the two.

I marinated the tenderloin in a mixture of tequila and lime juice for about an hour, and soaked a couple of cups of wood chips in water for about fifteen minutes.  I drained the wood chips and put them in a foil pouch, making sure that it was open at both ends.  The pouch went in at the bottom of the barbecue.  I started up the barbecue with only one burner until the chips started smoking, turned the heat down to it’s lowest setting, then put the tenderloin on the side opposite the burner until it cooked to an internal temperature of 145F.

We served it on tortillas with pico de gallo, avocados and onions marinated in lime juice and tequila because the avocados were too hard to use for guacamole, cheese, and sour cream.  I ended up cooking the shrimp as I had initially planned and we had that as well.  For sides we grilled some corn and served it with a chile-infused butter and I also made quick-friend zucchini with toasted garlic and lime from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican cookbook.

The meat took on a wonderful orange-ish colour from the smoke and had a beautiful smoky flavour.  It wasn’t difficult to prepare or cook and really made the tacos something special.  They may have been nicer texturally had I shredded the pork instead of slicing it, but the flavour was great.  We will definitely try this again.

Smoke-roasted Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4.

Ingredients:
1 pork tenderloin
A generous splash of tequila
The juice from two or three freshly squeezed limes
Salt and pepper
2 cups applewood chips

Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper and put it in a sealable container with the tequila/lime juice mixture.  Let this sit in the fridge for about an hour.  In the meantime, soak the wood chips in water for fifteen minutes, drain, and make a foil pouch for them.  Close the pouch, leaving the ends open, place it on the bottom of your barbecue and heat the grill until the chips begin to smoke.  Place the marinated tenderloin on the side of the grill opposite the wood chips–the tenderloin shouldn’t be over a flame.  Cook with the lid closed until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145F, about 45-60 minutes.  Serve with tortillas and your favourite taco fixings.

Quick-friend Zucchini with Toasted Garlic and Lime
Serves 4. Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Authentic Mexican.

Ingredients:
1 pound zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 scant tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
A generous 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I used fresh oregano from the garden)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Sweating the zucchini. In a colander, toss the zucchini with the salt; let stand 1/2 hou over a plate or in the sink. Rinse the zucchini, then dry on paper towels.
2. Browning the garlic and frying the zucchini. About 15 minutes before serving, heat the butter and oil over a medium-low heat in a skillet large enough to hold the zucchini in a single layer. Add the garlic and stir frequently until light brown, about 3 minutes. Do not burn. Scoop the garlic into a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl, then scrape the strained butter mixture back into the pan; set the garlic aside. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the zucchini to the pan and fry, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned and tender but still a little crunchy. Remove from the heat.
3. Finishing the dish. Add the lime and toasted garlic; toss thoroughly. Sprinkle with the pepper, oregano and parsley, then mix, taste for salt and serve in a warm dish.

Barbecued Ribs

On Thursday morning I was sitting at my computer with my morning coffee reading the day’s news. I was on The Guardian’s website and, in an experience that is no doubt familiar to many Guardian readers, found myself enraged at the headline for one of their articles. Was it some provocative but thick-skulled analysis of the conflict in the Middle East? A woefully misinformed and patronising article about Canadian politics? Anything ever by Madeline Bunting?  No, it was the headline for the following article by Felicity Cloake on the site’s sidebar: are ribs, this “mainstay of the American barbecue canon overrated or a porcine classic?”

Ribs overrated?  They’d pushed me too far this time.  I ranted to Anna about how stupid the Guardian is and how they only publish things with extreme views that will divide and anger people who will then repeatedly click on the article to leave vengeful comments on it.  Such is the world with print media declining.

To be fair, once I calmed down enough to read the article, it wasn’t actually bad at all.  Basically Cloake’s point is that the British are terrible at barbecue and so their idea of barbecuing ribs is to throw them on the grill for a few minutes on each side and then wonder what the big deal is about ribs as they joylessly gnaw on tough and barely edible meat.  You would think that I’m exaggerating here, but barbecue is an unknown art in the UK.  We tried it when we lived there and had poor results.  You can easily find a cheap charcoal grill, but good luck finding decent charcoal.  And when I say “decent charcoal”, I mean charcoal that will actually heat up enough to be useful for cooking.  It’s like the British state and its perverse obsession with all things health and safety carried out a risk analysis and determined that not only is barbecue potentially carcinogenic but also that hot things can burn and so people should be denied the primal pleasure of cooking things over fire.  Balls.  I digress.  Anyway, Cloake goes on and tries different methods of cooking ribs to find the best possible recipe.

Not that a recipe for ribs is really necessary.  To me, ribs are one of the quintessential “cook from the heart” foods.  As long as you’re cooking them for a long time with low heat and making sure that they don’t dry out, you can do pretty much whatever you want with them and you’ll end up with great meat.  I prefer to give the ribs a slow bake in the oven and finish them on the grill, which is, I know, anathema to the purists who insist that you can only do proper ribs if you smoke them, but I don’t have a smoker, and I’m not confident enough about my barbecue’s temperature control to be able to cook them for hours at a low temperature on the grill.  When it’s all said and done, the ribs are tender and delicious and that’s good enough for me.

I prefer spare ribs to back ribs because they have more fat on them.  I always get mine from my butcher.  The night before I cook the ribs, I first remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.  You can find out how to do that here.  With the membrane removed the rub and the sauce can better penetrate the meat.  I use a rub, which consists of sugar, salt, and spices, though how I make the rub varies each time.  I’ll post the rub I used this time below, but I normally improvise it based on whatever seems good at the time.  I apply (rub?) the rub onto the meat, wrap it in plastic, and keep it in the fridge overnight.

About four or five hours before the planned dinner time I start baking the ribs in the oven.  I only did it for about three hours this time because I had a band practice that went a little bit late.  They still worked out great, and there are plenty of baked ribs recipes that call for a two hour bake, so I guess that two hours is probably the minimum?  But generally speaking, the longer you can bake them, the better.  I brush them with sauce before they go in the oven–Anna made the sauce from from Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food, which she posted about here–and put them into a 250F oven on a broiling pan.  I put some water in the broiling pan with the idea that the water would steam and keep the meat moist.  I’m not actually sure this works, but the idea seems to make sense.  I’ll occasionally reapply the sauce and turn the ribs.  The sauce should bake nicely onto the meat and as the meat cooks it should pull away slightly from the bone.  When they’re cooked and tender, they can be taken out of the oven and kept until you’re ready to grill them.

When the guests arrive and you’re ready to eat, brush some more sauce onto the ribs and grill them on the barbecue to get the sauce nicely caramelised, and then serve.  We had ours with grilled corn, spoonbread, and a potato and vegetable salad.  The meat was tender and flavourful.  We had a couple of friends over for dinner and over drinks and conversation we devoured the two racks over the course of the night.  It was what summer eating should be about.

Rub for ribs
Makes enough for two racks of ribs

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder (I use Colman’s)
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Mix everything together and generously rub it into the meat.

Polenta and Me

I feel like I have been trying to master polenta for years; like most traditional Italian foods/ways of cooking, polenta is at once incredibly simple (just cornmeal and water, at its base!), but at the same time it takes patience and experience to make a really great one. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to cook up a polenta in about 10 minutes, and I could never figure out what the big deal about it was since it was kind of bland in taste and texture. Yeah. Sorry polenta, it wasn’t you, it was me. I have since seen the error of my ways.

In the summer, when we are in hardcore BBQ-ing mode (and we BBQ probably at least 3 times a week in hot weather; so much nicer than being stuck in the kitchen!), grilled polenta makes a frequent appearance on our dinner plates. The soft, fresh-off-the-stove hot stuff is perfect stick-to-your-ribs eating in winter, while solid, lightly grilled wedges make the perfect starchy accompaniment in summer. It is not difficult (and also inexpensive!) to whip up a giant batch that will satisfy a group, and it is awesome with whatever extra BBQ-related sauce you have sitting around. I love the varying textures that you can find in a grilled polenta: a little bit charred, a little bit melty, and at its best nice and creamy.

Last weekend, we had a couple of Graeme’s colleagues and their families over for dinner, and we served some grilled polenta alongside freshly-made Italian sausage, an arugula and grilled squid salad, some grilled asparagus, and this unbelievable tasty and pretty rhubarb cheesecake from Nami-Nami. This is literally the best cheesecake I have ever made; I urge you to go make it immediately. In fact, I will be making it again this weekend.

One of our guests is not a big meat eater, so Graeme and I were conscious that the polenta should be the kind of thing that could stand on its own such that it could be someone’s main course, rather than being relegated to a side dish. As such, I packed it with cheese and roasted garlic to give it more flavour and richness, and Graeme whipped up (off the top of his head, because he’s awesome like that!) an accompanying grilled corn and roasted tomato salsa. Probably the least “fancy” part of the entire meal, this pairing was lovely and fresh and textured and we devoured the leftovers the next day. Simple, when done with thought and care, can be so damn good. There are a million ways to enjoy polenta on and off the BBQ, and we are happy to share what we did this time as but one drop in the tasty bucket.

Grilled Polenta with Grilled Corn and Roasted Tomato Salsa
Serves 8-10 people.

Ingredients:
For the Polenta:

2 cups cornmeal (I like it as coarsely ground as possible)
10 cups water
lots of salt, pepper and some dried red chili flakes
1 head of garlic
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (or other similar hard cheese)

For the Salsa:
3 ears of corn, shucked
4 or 5 tomatoes
A generous amount of fresh oregano, basil, or whatever other herbs you have on hand
Olive oil

To make the Polenta:
Preheat your oven to 400F. Take your head of garlic, and chop off the top of it so that the tops of all of the cloves are exposed. Place it on a piece of tin foil and drizzle a bit of olive oil on top, and sprinkle a little salt and pepper. Wrap up the garlic in the tin foil, and roast it in the hot oven for approximately 45 minutes, til the cloves are good and soft. Take it out of the oven, unwrap and let it cool so that you won’t burn your fingers when it’s time to squeeze the garlic out!

Bring the water to a boil with some salt, then drizzle in the cornmeal while stirring vigorously to avoid clumps. Reduce the heat to low (seriously, as low as you can possibly go and still have the thing be cooking). Stir it. For a long time. At least 45 minutes. Don’t go more than a minute or two during this process without stirring. If it’s gotten super thick but still isn’t very creamy, add a bit more water. Stir it until it’s nice and thick and CREAMY. When it’s about done, add in your ricotta, Parmesan, and remove the garlic cloves from their skins and mix it all in. If you want, smash some of the garlic against the side of the saucepan to make it distribute more evenly, but don’t do that too much–it is an awesome surprise to discover whole cloves of sweet roasted garlic in your polenta! Then season to taste. I just used salt, pepper and some dried chili flakes, but you could add whatever you’d like. Be generous with the salt. Pour the polenta out into a lasagna-sized baking dish and refrigerate for at least one hour, until it is nice and solid.

Once you’re ready to grill, cut the polenta up into generous pieces; I like to cut it into squares and then cut those in two into triangles. This batch got me about a dozen such triangles. Either brush the polenta or your grill with a bit of oil to keep it from sticking. Grill until it’s nice and hot throughout, the skin is a bit charred and crispy, and it smells awesome. Serve with sauce.

To make the Salsa:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Lightly brush the tomatoes with olive oil, put them on a baking tray, and put them in the oven until they are soft.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Once they’re cool enough to touch, peel the skins off the tomatoes, roughly chop them, and put them in a bowl.  In the meantime, fire up the grill and roast your corn.  Once it’s cooked, slice the kernels off the cob and add those to the tomatoes. Chop up generous amounts of fresh herbs and toss those with the tomatos and corn.  Check and adjust the seasoning, and serve spooned over grilled warm polenta wedges.

The First BBQ of the Year, Soul Food-Style

Montrealers may remember that last summer was one of the hottest, stuffiest summers in recent memory. We don’t have air conditioning in our apartment, and so for much of the summer, cooking in our kitchen was pretty much unbearable. Luckily, we had just purchased a new BBQ, as well as the awesome veggie grilling basket pictured above, and so we spent months eating perfect dinners of grilled proteins with vegetables–whatever we had in the fridge just thrown on a the grill with a little bit of seasoning and oil–and loving it. It was about as much as we could handle “cooking” in that heat. And it ruled. As the weather has been warming up in recent weeks, I am looking forward to another summer of simple, tasty, hearty BBQ-ing.

This weekend we fired up the BBQ for the first time this year, and we were instantly nostalgic for last summer, and excited for this one. We kicked off the first BBQ of the season with a soul food-style feast. I have, in the past couple of years, become obsessed with soul food, which is a problem since this is a pretty much nonexistent cuisine in Montreal. Whenever we go to the U.S. I gorge myself and discover what I can, while back home, I have relied on a couple of cookbooks to show me the ropes. It is a pretty strange thing to cook dishes at home that you’ve never actually eaten before, so that you’re not quite sure if you’re getting them right. Last winter, for example, I was fixated on trying to make chicken and dumplings, and scoured a million websites to find the perfect recipe to introduce me to this traditional dish; the result was absolutely delicious, but who knows how it compared to the real thing!

One book that has been teaching me about soul food is Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South:

source

Sheila Ferguson wrote Soul Food when she moved to the UK with her British husband and felt cut off from her community and access to traditional recipes. She is a fantastic writer who takes great pains to introduce the reader to the origins of the food, its cultural significance, and why she loves it. She manages to be funny and colloquial without coming off as kitschy. Chapters of the book include, for example, “The High and Mighty Breakfast”; “Fine Feathered Fowl”; “The Almighty Pig”; “If You See It, Shoot It”; and “The Glorious Sweet Potato”; among others. I had been pouring over this book since I bought it months ago, savouring her writing on the evolution of this style of cooking, but it was not until this weekend that I finally tried a recipe. Many reviews online mentioned that Ferguson’s BBQ sauce recipes were amazing, so I thought that a fitting place to start. Often, when we BBQ, we use the Smoked Chipotle BBQ Sauce from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie cookbook, which is seriously so ridiculously flavourful that it surprises us every time, but I thought it  might be nice to add another sauce to our repertoire. And Ferguson did not disappoint. For whatever reason, I was especially drawn to the BBQ sauce in her recipe for spareribs, so I stole that and used it for a couple of chicken legs. We grilled some new potatoes, asparagus and nectarines alongside the chicken, and as a further accompaniment I decided to try my hand at another soul food perennial that I had never actually tried (or even seen) in real life: spoonbread.

The result was a literally finger-licking plate of food that could not have made a more beautiful kick-off to our summer cookery. The BBQ sauce was really simple but full of flavour: a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, a little bit acidic, it complemented the char of the BBQ perfectly. I will absolutely be making it again; it strikes me as the perfect base sauce to experiment with, or just to use as is because it is so solid. The spoonbread was like a perfect cross between cornbread and bread pudding. We often do some kind of corn-based accompaniment when we grill–cornbread, grilled polenta, corn on the cob–and this is a great addition to our repertoire. Light and fluffy, and nice and moist, it really added to the succulence of the BBQ-ed chicken and also made for awesome leftovers; we had some for breakfast the next morning with butter and a fried egg.

What a lovely way to kick of BBQ season; I hope we will have many more such meals to share with you over the coming months. In the meantime, here are Sheila Ferguson’s recipes for Spoonbread and BBQ Sauce, slightly adapted by me.

Spoonbread
Adapted from Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South. Serves 6.

Spoonbread is to my mind a gourmet’s delight. You should be able to spoon it out onto your plate and eat it with a fork. To ensure this, I treat spoonbread with the respect it deserves and separate the eggs and beat the whites. Some people don’t and it comes out just fine, but I like that extra little bit of fluffiness that beaten egg whites give.

Ingredients:
1 cup yellow or white cornmeal
2 cups water
1 tsp salt [I would add a little more]
1 cup milk or buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp baking powder
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites

Preheat your over to 375F. Pour your cornmeal into boiling salted water. Cook, over medium heat, for 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly.
When the consistency is just about right, remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the milk. Let it cool down a bit before beating in your butter, baking powder and egg yolks. Beat vigorously for a couple of minutes then fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites (stiff but not dry, that is).

Pour the batter into a well buttered 2 quart baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes [it took me about 45] or until golden brown. It’s done when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

You can serve spoonbread with just about any kind of meat — ham, pork loin or chops, spareribs, roast chicken or seafood dishes. It is also terrific for breakfast!

Spare Rib BBQ Sauce
Adapted from Sheila Ferguson’s Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South. Again, I used this to BBQ chicken and it worked out beautifully; I am sure it would also be awesome for ribs too.
Serves 6.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp melted pork fat or bacon grease (or melted butter)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp mustard dry or prepared (not too strong though or it will take over the taste)
1 tbsp celery salt or 1 tsp celery seed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper [I put closer to a tsp and it gave it a nice kick]
1 cup tomato ketchup
3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup water or meat stock
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional) [I skipped this]

Heat the bacon grease or butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Brown the onion, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so. Add in all the remaining ingredients. Bring them to a boil, then simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes or so, uncovered.

Taste and adjust seasoning, and then slather all over your chosen protein!